Frank Leutz Is Putting His Mouth Where His Money Is
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Frank Leutz Is Putting His Mouth Where His Money Is

Desert Car Care, Chandler, AZ

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What advice can a jazz musician who had no interest in cars group up and considered a career in the repair business as a favor to his in-laws possibly offer today’s independent repair shop owner? Frank Leutz says remember this — every day brings a new opportunity to exercise courage.

“You never stop. I think part of being in business is realizing that yesterday is done. Whether it was a failure or a success, every day is new,” says Leutz, owner of Desert Car Care in Chandler, AZ.

Arizona’s Valley of The Sun is the last place the son of a strict single German mom dreamed of as he was growing up on the mean streets of New York City’s Washington Heights.

“There was no car culture growing up in the city,” recalls Leutz. “You hopped a subway train or you hopped a bus. A lot of my life was playing jazz music. I went to a Music & Art and Performing Arts school by Lincoln Center, so when it came down to trying to get to the next level, I figured I’d just go to college. I had auditioned for several colleges and they all said they would take me on a performance scholarship, but I needed to get my math up. I think I failed economics in high school because I just didn’t show up.”

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Leutz says when it came to focusing, he did — briefly. “I put my horn down and went to community college. I lasted inside of 30 days. I quickly realized I wanted to get out of the city. At the time, I didn’t see any opportunity. And so, I took a hard left and I joined the Navy.”

Leutz says he found himself in the Strait of Hormuz conducting mine sweeping operations in the Persian Gulf. “I was a signalman, dealing with semaphore and Morse Code ship-to-shop communication. It was an amazing experience to travel the world. I had thought everything revolved around New York City — I learned it didn’t.”

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What he did learn from his world tour was to embrace opportunity when it presented itself. 

“When I got out of the military in 1989, back in San Diego, I figured Coronado looked like a nice place to live so I’d just rent an apartment. Well, those were $3 million condos, so that didn’t happen. At the time, my fiancé said, ‘Listen, work with my dad. He has a garage and he’ll help you learn how to be a mechanic,’” Leutz recalls. 

“He was building a location in Phoenix, leaving San Diego. My fiancé had to transfer with her job. My other option was to go back and be a broke musician in New York, so it was really my future wife who gave the support, because at that time there was a lot of confusion. Again, it was just the challenge of showing up every day to something new.”

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Fast forward a couple of years and Leutz says he was at crucial crossroads. “Literally, on my honeymoon, I knew I couldn’t work for the family business. This was an old school garage doing valve jobs, pulling motors, working on carburetors — really nothing with technology.”

He joined the service team at the local Chevrolet dealership and learned a lot of the technical aspects as well as the fact that he could make a good living doing clean work and working in the right environment. He also learned the precariousness of working for someone else.

“The dealership was sold in the mid-’90s, and they told me they were going to transfer me to a new Saturn store. When I arrived there and was setting up for paperwork, they basically just asked, ‘Who are you?’ In a nutshell, I was let go before I started.”

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He admits that he was devastated and told his wife he could read the writing on the wall — he was not meant to be a mechanic. She had other ideas.

“She said, ‘We have about $6,000. Let’s open up our own shop.’ That was a huge leap, but through that, I learned that every day is a new day.”

After opening his first shop in 1995 in Phoenix, he sold it in 2004, then ventured out into the rapidly expanding East Valley to open Desert Car Care of Chandler. He says, “The emphasis was to conduct a profitable business by way of strong community relationships, a consistent marketing plan and tight measures regarding operations. In 2009 and 2010, I expanded to two locations in Gilbert and after building the client base and increasing profits, I sold both to focus all my efforts on the Chandler location, serve my industry and start a second brand to reach a national audience.”

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From 2013 through mid-2017, Leutz was president of the Phoenix Chapter of the Automotive Service Association (ASA). In 2016, he was elected to serve on the Mechanical Division Operations Committee of ASA national. It was at that point that he exercised his passion for education in the industry.

“In 2016, I created Wrench Nation, which represents all things automotive. The conduit is Wrench Nation Car Talk Radio, a car talk show emphasizing the colorful and educational stories of professionals in the automotive service industry, automotive training, motorsports legends, automotive news and events while dispensing easy-to-understand car care tips,” Leutz says. “I was very proud to synchronize with the East Valley Institute of Technology. They are a nationally ranked high school-level trade school, with a sophisticated automotive department, as well as a great radio department. The weekly live show is re-purposed as a podcast airing every Saturday at 8 a.m. on 1100 KFNX Radio and weekly on iTunes, along with a multitude of podcast distributors where there are approximately 10,000 downloads.”

For all of the popularity, however, Leutz says forget about the word “celebrity” — he has a passion to simply invigorate and inspire without preaching. “It certainly doesn’t start off as ‘Follow me. This is how I did it perfectly.’ Here’s the answer: DON’T do what I do. Let me save you five years of anguish.” 

Leutz credits his shop owner predecessors, including writer Mitch Schneider and podcaster Carm Capriotta, for their inspiration and leadership when he was coming up through the industry.

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“Mitch was my hero. He has been on the show and it was an honor to talk with him because I could tell him, ‘You saved my sanity. You went through it too? All right. I don’t feel like such an idiot,’” Leutz says. “This was during the dawn of the internet, when we didn’t have social media, we didn’t have YouTube. I think a lot of that does spark a sense of balance and hope — we all need that.”

Leutz wields his microphone with ease but promotes training and also uses his Chandler shop for inspiration and education as well. 

“To me it’s a two-sided coin. There’s the face value of your team getting the training, but there’s also the other side of that coin of supporting the educators. We don’t realize how much good education is out there, whether it’s in the public or the private sector. He regularly hosts other shop owners, customers, students and local media outlets for training purposes.

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“In addition, we’re also supporting that side of the industry. I’ve had 35, 40 shop owners in my garage on every aspect of industry training. Many of us are dealing with skilled labor shortages and supply chain issues. The logic of getting yourself filled with more knowledge, there’s a network that comes out of that,” Leutz says. “We can tackle it as a team, as a collective. We all need it. Let’s be honest — vehicles are complicated. There are a hundred million lines of code on this new F-150. However, the comradery in the network allows you not to be on that island.”

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He admits that he may not have the Holy Grail regarding business success, but he does want to be an inspiration. “When lifting that cold chain on that garage door every morning, we all want to be profitable. And we’re always learning, growing, and honing and dialing that profit in. You’re in business so that you can honor your time and you can enjoy your time,” he says. 

Leutz says his effort to manage his time requires careful investment in technology when it makes solid sense. “I’m an entrepreneur, but I’m a technician at heart. We have all this fancy test equipment. Do we actually use it? And how productive can we be?”

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With that attention, Leutz says Desert Car Care is not yet active in ADAS service. “I had to assess, what’s the marketability of this. What’s the return? What does it look like from an hour’s point of view for us? After careful analysis, I’m not ready for it. Am I looking at it? Yes. Am I looking at EV? Yes, but I think right now I’m looking at how we’ll market it. I’m adding bread to the shelf. How can I sell a lot of bread?”

The key, Leutz says, is create the procedure and abide by it to create value for the consumer, to have them salivate for the service they need.

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“It’s very easy for us to go down the rabbit hole because things are so complicated. How do we avoid analysis paralysis? When is it too much? When is it overkill? As technicians, we have to invest in our tools, software, hardware and so on, but where is the cap based upon the value of time? Is my time best spent with more investment in equipment or on training?”

Part of today’s challenge, Leutz acknowledges, is addressing the communication needs of technicians and customers. “We were an early adopter of the digital technologies offered by BOLT ON TECHNOLOGY. We’ve been using their digital tools for almost seven years. The resources they offer help us micro-communicate consistently, allowing the macro to take care of itself. We are big communicators, but we’re not having meetings just to have meetings.”

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For the most part, Leutz says his week is typically 20 to 25 hours a week in the garage. “Do I need to be here? No, I’m very grateful. I have an awesome staff, an awesome team. And what am I going to do? I mean, the Wrench Nation things keep me busy but I still truly enjoy being in my garage.”

Leutz is proud of the fact that his shop has been named one of Phoenix’s best places to work. “I’d say 99% of our work is all scheduled, so it reduces the anxiety. At the end of the day, attitude and aptitude are two basic tenants of our shop. If those things are not met with the investment, with the company and the team, then it’s time to move on.”

Leutz credits his personal motto to Winston Churchill. “’Success is not final. Failure’s not fatal. It’s the courage that counts,’” he says. “At the end of the day, we’re going to have ups and downs, but if we can step back and show up and treat every day like a new day — which requires courage — that’s what counts. It keeps us humble. 

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“We don’t have the answers to everything. If we can just keep that courage under our belt, that helps us manage and maintain and look forward to what we’ve got. We talk about future-proofing your business. What about future-proofing your spirit? To be able to say no matter what has happened, if I can just be courageous to show up for my people and for myself no matter what I’m dealing with, highs or lows, that, to me, is what counts.

“I don’t care if it’s one person listening or a million. To me, it doesn’t matter. If we can inspire a few people, at the end of the day, I’m happy.”

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